The Bucket List: 11 Must-See Temples in Asia

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The Bucket List: 11 Must-See Temples in Asia

There are countless bucket list-worthy opportunities in Asia, whether seeing the long-tail boats anchored off the white sand beaches of Thailand, riding camels through the Thar Desert of India or eating sushi and ramen in Tokyo, among many others. No trip to Asia or any of its countries would be complete without visiting its temples. The continent is a religious melting pot and home to stunning houses of worship built in the name of Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths. These 11 must-see temples will take you on a tour of the region’s more prominent faiths and some of its most iconic cultural relics.

1. Temples at Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar

Photo by Paul Arps, CC BY 2.0

Arguably Myanmar’s most famous site and one of the most famous in South East Asia, Bagan was once home to more than 10,000 temples. Today well over 2,000 remain. Once there you can visit the temples on foot, by bike, via a tour or from the basket of a hot air balloon. If you’ve set out to explore them independently, you’ll likely find yourself completely alone as you climb the steps and explore the inner passageways of these ancient temples. For a truly memorable experience, and a great photo opportunity, make your way to the top of one of the taller structures and watch the sun set over the dusty plain that’s dotted with these temples as far as the eye can see.

2. Haeinsa Temple
Hapcheon-gun, South Korea

haeinsa_south korea.jpg
Photo by Revelateur Studio, CC BY-SA 2.0

Nestled away in the Gaya Mountains in South Korea’s Gyeongsang Province, Haeinsa Temple sits like a hidden gem among the trees. It’s been deemed on of the country’s Three Jewel Temples and dates back to 802 A.D. It’s an active Buddhist temple, which makes is all the more interesting to visit. You’ll pass grey-robed monks as they carry on with their daily rituals among the crowds of guests. Haeinsa is also home to the Tripitaka Koreana, more than 80,000 wooden blocks hand-carved with Buddhist scriptures which the temple has housed since the late 1300s. Haeinsa offers a temple stay program that invites visitors to spent several nights at the temple living and learning with the monks. It’s an experience that should not be missed if your itinerary allows for it.

3. Golden Temple Amritsar
Amritsar, India

Golden Temple_India.jpg
Photo by Koshy Koshy, CC BY 2.0

Like all the countries on this list, India is home to an astonishing quantity of temples, whether Hindu, Bahai, Jain or belonging to any of the country’s other prominent religions. The Golden Temple Amritsar, formally Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib, is a Sikh temple in India’s northern Punjap region and is among the country’s most famous. The temple welcomes people from all religions to worship equally and a reported 100,000 people visit daily to do so.

4. Temple of Heaven
Beijing, China

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Photo by Lip Jin Lee, CC BY-NC 2.0

Sitting on 660 acres in southern Beijing, the Temple of Heaven and the surrounding park is a peaceful respite from the capital’s frenzied pace. The temple, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between 1406 and 1420 as a place to pray for good harvest and pay homage to the god of heaven. The complex consists of three main structures, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (pictured), the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar.

5. Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Paro Valley, Bhutan

Tiger's Nest Monastery_Bhutan.jpg
Photo by Michael Foley, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Paro Taktsang, known in English as Tiger’s Nest Monastery, sits perched more than 10,000 feet above sea level on the side of a cliff. Visiting Bhutan isn’t especially easy, it requires a visa and a $250-per-day tariff, and once there a trip to its most iconic site requires a considerably difficult hike. The monastery is accessible via several mountain paths and the complex’s buildings are connected by staircases carved into the mountain’s rocks.

6. Angkor Wat
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Photo by Matt Brittaine, CC BY-ND 2.0

As the world’s largest religious monument, the temples at Angkor are a several-day undertaking if you want to see it all. The complex, officially Angkor Archaeological Park, occupies more than 400 square miles where the former capitals the Khmer Empire ruled between the fifth and ninth centuries. Days can be filled visiting the temples, but Angkor Wat is by far the most famous. Bayon Temple and Angkor Thom are both must-see stops as well if time is limited and you can’t take them all in.

7. Lotus Temple
New Delhi, India

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Photo by Arian Zwegers, CC BY 2.0

New Delhi’s Lotus Temple, one of only seven Bahá’í Houses of Worship in the world, rises from the ground like the flower its design was inspired by and the temple is named after. It’s surrounded by ponds and gardens and the 27 petals that make up the exterior of the temple are clad in white marble. The Bahá’í faith is one rooted in oneness among Gods, religions and and all of mankind and the temple welcomes a reported 8,000 to 10,000 visitors daily.

8. Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha
Lantau Island, Hong Kong

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Photo by Travis, CC BY 2.0

Hong Kong’s Tian Tan Buddha sits 112 feet tall and protrudes from the trees high up in the hills of Lantau Island. The Buddha is located next to Po Lin Monastery and is accessible by road or cable car. The Buddha, completed in 1993, sits on a base modeled after Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. To stand at the base of the structure requires climbing 268 steps and is worth every single one.

9. Wat Pho
Bangkok, Thailand

wat pho_thailand.jpg
Pierre Pouliquin, CC BY-NC 2.0

Wat Pho, located in Bangkok, is one of the city’s oldest and its biggest. It’s home to a 150-foot reclining Buddha, which is why Wat Pho is commonly referred to as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. For good luck, bring coins to drop in any of the 108 bronze bowls that are housed near the Buddha. The complex is also home to more than 1,000 additional Buddha images.

10. Borobudur
Central Java, Indonesia

Photo by Ingo Di Bella, CC BY-SA 2.0

Shortly after arriving at Borobudur, it’s not hard to see why it’s Indonesia’s most visited attraction. The Buddhist temple was build in the ninth century and has survived earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and vandalism to remain the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The stacked platforms of Borobudur sit in the shadows of two volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi, which the temple looks architecturally inspired by.

11. T?dai-ji Temple
Nara, Japan

Photo by Jane, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Home to Japan’s largest bronze Buddha and a herd of resident deer, T?dai-ji Temple is worth the short train ride from Kyoto. The large wooden structure that houses the Buddha is stunning in its own right and the deer that greet you, albeit somewhat aggressively, as you walk toward the complex add an extra layer of wonder to the experience of visiting. Mind your pockets and any maps or money you might be carrying in hand. The deer consider anything within reach free food for the taking.

Top photo: Marina & Enrique, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.

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